Raising Responsive and Responsible Children (page 3)

By — NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Balancing Parental Information With Outside Information

In order to help children interpret the information they get from the media and other outside sources, parents need to talk with them about the difficult issues they will confront throughout their lives. By taking a proactive stance and initiating discussion of tough issues such as aggression, violence, sexual activity, substance abuse, we let our children know that we care about what happens to them and capitalize on our ability to be a more powerful influence that other sources. Proactive parents also listen to their children, really hear their views and beliefs, even if they differ from their own. Parents who approach their children and establish good connections, send the message that no topic is too trivial or threatening to hear, and have children who continue to turn to them. Parents also help children develop independent thinking by encouraging the development of problem-solving skills. Having children take steps to define problems calmly, generate alternative responses, choose among those alternatives, and review the outcome has proved to be a valuable strategy, even for young children. Children who are taught to use this approach are more likely to be successful with friends, in school and when confronted with new situations.

Balancing Involvement With Freedom

Although it seems that children want to be left alone, this isn't quite the case. Parents are faced with the decision about how much to intervene - or interfere - with their children from the minute they are born. Parents watch anxiously and eagerly as they see a child take his first steps, feeling the tug of witnessing the child's strong drive to be free and on his own and the urge to protect him from any falls. The same approach parents take in helping their one-year-old learn to walk should be taken when helping their teenager learn responsibility. Parents should allow their children to explore the world in reasonable, age-appropriate doses. Unless they are living with strict restrictions, children will learn about television shows, songs, toys or games that are at odds with parental values. With guidance, however, children can learn to be critical thinkers and to make informed judgments. Isolation doesn't work very well in our complex, information-laden society, and only makes the forbidden material that much more enticing. Being involved in a child's life - knowing their friends, attending PTA meetings, becoming familiar with their likes in music - shows you're interested and that you value who they are. But involvement does not mean insisting they do things your way. And freedom does not mean they live without regard for person and property. Allowing children to test out their own ideas and behaviors helps them discover what is right for them.

Balancing Supervision WIth Freedom

More and more parents are decreasing their supervision of their children as soon as they physically can take care of themselves, usually around the ages of nine or ten. As a result, many children are unsupervised when they leave school until their parents come home. Children and adolescents take most of the high-risk actions over which we have become concerned in the last decades between the hours of 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM on weekdays. Most parents must or want to work outside the home, leaving a void of time between a child's home from school time and a parent's home from work time. But parents can be alert to their children's activities by setting up specific plans for them and being clear about what is expected from them.

Balancing Service to Self With Service to Others

At some point, children will be "on their own" and must fulfill their own needs. They learn to take care of themselves by being taken care of by their parents and watching how parents care about others. Respect and appreciation are best taught by example and experience. Children do best when they live in a home where each individual's contribution to the well being of the family and functioning of the home is honored. It is easy to translate these attitudes and qualities to the world at large. It is never too early to engage children in charitable activities - having toddlers share toys, having your child escort you when bringing home baked cookies to a neighbor at the holidays, encouraging your teen to volunteer in an after-school program - these actions allow children to appreciate what they have, understand their value as a person, and gives them a sense of their ability to contribute to the good of the world.

It is instructive and encouraging for parents to know how today's students characterize the American dream. According to the Horatio Alger Association, they dream of more than "career or material success". Instead, they mention wanting "universal welfare, including happiness and harmony for all." Today's teens aspire to lives in which their emotional needs are fulfilled in a family environment and a community of friends and neighbors. At the same time, today's students expect to give back to their communities [and] their greatest motivating factor for seeking further education [is] having the ability to make a difference, to change things for the better". Whatever the challenges of the 21st century for parents and children, it appears our future is in good hands.

About the Author

Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement issues.

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About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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